Nathan Meakes poses with one of the two signs he placed on Lakeshore Drive to alert drivers to migrating turtles on Sunday, June 11. image credit: Jim Elliot/Salmon Arm Observer.

Resident turtles in jeopardy

Some McGuire Lake turtles are travelling to the foreshore to lay their eggs

High water levels are endangering resident painted turtles that are on the species at risk list.

Because of a shortage of basking logs or rafts required for the daily dose of sunshine these reptiles need, the turtles are travelling farther afield to lay their eggs.

They have been spotted trying to cross Lakeshore Drive to get to the foreshore.

Some of them have been hit killed by passing vehicles in the process.

Nathan Meakes drives along Lakeshore every day.

Last week he spotted a large female in the middle of the road, moving in the direction of McGuire Lake. Meakes put on his hazard lights, picked the turtle up and delivered her safely to McGuire Lake.

Back on Lakeshore Drive a little while later, he spotted another turtle and when he stopped to rescue her, he saw two dead ones.

Meakes went home and made signs, which he posted – one just east of the Marine Park railway crossing and another just west of Eighth Avenue for westbound traffic.

“I know a number of people have seen them on highway,” says the builder who studied conservation biology in university and developed a passion for wetlands and turtles. “I’d like to see permanent signage up, I was just trying to do my part. I care about all wildlife.”

Meakes would like to see small, red turtles painted on the roads by McGuire Lake and along Lakeshore where they have been crossing.

“They should do something creative with schools; it’s not infrequent you see the turtles along there,” said Meakes, referring to a similar school program in which students paint fish by city drains to remind people that whatever goes into the drain will end up in the lake.

Shuswap Naturalists Club president Ed McDonald says he has received calls about the plight of the turtles.

“It’s becoming a bit of a problem; they have to go somewhere but there is just nothing there,” says McDonald, noting he approached the city’s parks department last year to talk about amenities for the resident reptiles. “They were good about it but said it was a time thing; they have to get anchors for the logs and it takes time to get them in.”

McDonald points to White Lake where turtle safety is taken very seriously.

“They are a species of concern; the Kootenays and here (the Shuswap) is where they’re doing the best and it’s up to us to protect them.”We’ve never had the problem with turtles making such a long trip; they look for a place where the sun will shine that is why they like a southern exposure.”

He says female turtles can dig nests in fairly hard ground, depositing her eggs in the spring. The babies hatch in the fall but remain underground until the following spring.

So drivers are asked to be very cautious as the new arrivals may soon be on the move, heading to McGuire Lake to take up residence.

Several years ago, work was undertaken to make improvements to turtle habitat at McGuire Lake and McDonald would like to see another such project.

But Rob Hein, manager of Roads and Parks, says there is nothing in the budget for turtle habitat this year.

Ecosystems biologist Robyn Reudink says it is very common for the painted turtle to nest in unsafe locations, such as busy parking sites, driveways or roads.

“During the nesting season, residents are urged to be aware of the possible presence of turtles on roads and take added caution in an effort to mitigate road mortality of the turtles,” Reudink wrote in an email. “Residents should also avoid disturbing the nesting site where possible as these types of turtles can be persistent in getting to a nesting site and moving them may just cause them to cross an obstacle a second time.”

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